Paris As Revolution: Writing The Nineteenth-Century City

Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson’s excellent 1994 book, Paris As Revolution: Writing The Nineteenth-Century City, is available freely online thanks to the University of California’s E-Books Collection project.

The book, which you can read in its entirety here, is structured around the following chapters:

I was reminded of this book as I’ve been re-reading Zola’s La Curée [The Kill] (1871-1872), which – although arguably one of the author’s lesser known works (particularly among non-French speaking audiences) – is a compelling account both of the Haussmannisation of Paris and the speculation in land and property which accompanied it. There are some extraordinary passages in which the protagonist, Aristide Saccard, describes in breathless detail ‘the Empire’s interest in huge speculative ventures, in organising the prodigious excavations and building operations that gave the working classes no time to think.’ For Saccard, Paris is a city coated in gold; ripe for the killing. And yet, as history has taught us, the re-making of Paris was predicated on expropriation, consumerism, socio-spatial segregation and a toxic, credit-fuelled boom, the collapse of which was as inevitable as the sub-prime crisis of 2008.

Baron Haussmann’s mémoires can be accessed freely (in French) online. Volume III – Grands Travaux de Paris (in which the Préfet de la Seine describes his transformation of the city) – can be read here.

David Harvey has written brilliantly on the transformation of Paris during the Second Empire in Paris: Capital of Modernity (London: Routledge, 2003).

Harvey’s wonderful Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (London: Verso, 2012), in which he once again turns his attention to nineteenth-century Paris, can be read here.

 

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The rebuilding of Paris and its reflection in works by Zola, Verne and Hugo

Décombres de l’avenir et projets rudéraux : les métamorphoses de Paris chez Verne, Hugo et Zola

Claudia Bouliane’s recently published MA dissertation is available online as a PDF.

The abstract is as follows :

Between 1853 and 1870, many areas of the French capital are torn down to allow the establishment of new avenues by Baron Haussmann, Paris’ prefect under Napoleon III. These major urban projects have struck the social imaginary and became an object of fascination for literature. This essay is located on the grounds of sociocriticism and seeks to understand how Verne’s, Hugo’s and Zola’s texts interpret the Paris’ new urban conformation. In Paris au XXe siècle (1863) Jules Verne is planning future destructions and, in turn, imagines the strange constructiveness of residual past. Although in exile, Victor Hugo is very aware of urban and social changes under way. In Paris (1867) his writing works to make compatible the ideas of ruin and progress. Émile Zola with Paris (1898) reflects the contradictions accompanying urban change through medical and organic metaphors close to “the decadence’s spirit” that characterizes the end of the century. In accordance with the aims of the sociocriticism’s approach, the research develops itself from an internal reading of works, drawing on the resources of texts’ analysis, poetics and narratology. The essay also mobilizes diverse works on relations between literature and the city, as well as works of synthesis produced in the fields of general history and of urban planning history.

Guy de Maupassant, Will Self, the Eiffel Tower and the Shard

This morning, BBC Radio 4’s Point of View featured a fascinating disquisition by British novelist Will Self on the state of contemporary urban planning. Opening with Guy de Maupassant’s sardonic reflections on the Eiffel Tower (see below) and the unfettered view afforded by his London home of Renzo Piano’s Shard, Self develops an argument that takes in Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities, Le Corbusian modernism and Owen Hatherley’s perspicacious critique of the boosterist architecture that produces our cities’ dazzling skylines and has the demerit of functioning as both icon and logo.

You can listen to the podcast of Self’s talk here.

Tour_Eiffel_1878
Source : http://expositions.bnf.fr/universelles
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

J’ai quitté Paris et même la France, parce que la tour Eiffel finissait par m’ennuyer trop.

Non seulement on la voyait de partout, mais on la trouvait partout, faite de toutes les matières connues, exposée à toutes les vitres, cauchemar inévitable et torturant. Ce n’est pas elle uniquement d’ailleurs qui m’a donné une irrésistible envie de vivre seul pendant quelque temps, mais tout ce qu’on a fait autour d’elle, dedans, dessus, aux environs.

Comment tous les journaux vraiment ont-ils osé nous parler d’architecture nouvelle à propos de cette carcasse métallique, car l’architecture, le plus incompris et le plus oublié des arts aujourd’hui, en est peut-être aussi le plus esthétique, le plus mystérieux et le plus nourri d’idées ? Il a eu ce privilège à travers les siècles de symboliser pour ainsi dire chaque époque, de résumer, par un très petit nombre de monuments typiques, la manière de penser, de sentir et de rêver d’une race et d’une civilisation. Quelques temples et quelques églises, quelques palais et quelques châteaux contiennent à peu près toute l’histoire de l’art à travers le monde, expriment à nos yeux mieux que des livres, par l’harmonie des lignes et le charme de l’ornementation, toute la grâce et la grandeur d’une époque.

Mais je me demande ce qu’on conclura de notre génération si quelque prochaine émeute ne déboulonne pas cette haute et maigre pyramide d’échelles de fer, squelette disgracieux et géant, dont la base semble faite pour porter un formidable monument de Cyclopes et qui avorte en un ridicule et mince profil de cheminée d’usine.

Guy de Maupassant, La Vie Errante (1890)

I left Paris and even France because in the end, the Eiffel Tower annoyed me too much. Not only could you see it from wherever you went in the city, but you also found it everywhere, made in every material known to man, on sale in all the shop windows, an unavoidable and agonising nightmare. It wasn’t only the Eiffel Tower, however, that gave me an irresistible desire to live alone for a while, but everything that was done around, inside, above and adjacent to it. Really – how could all the newspapers speak to us of a new architecture in relation to this metallic carcass, because architecture, the least understood and the most forgotten of the arts today is perhaps also the most aesthetic, the most mysterious and the most nourished with ideas. It has had the privilege, across the centuries, of symbolizing as it were each age, of summarizing in a very small number of typical monuments a race and a civilisation’s way of thinking, feeling and dreaming. A few temples and churches, palaces and châteaux contain more or less the world’s entire history of art, and express visually, better than books, through the harmony of lines and the charm of ornamentation all the grace and grandeur of an epoch.

But I wonder what will be concluded of our generation if some future riot does not topple this tall, skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this ungainly, giant skeleton whose base appears designed to carry a formidable monument of the Cyclops and which aborts in a ridiculous, thin profile of a factory chimney.

Guy de Maupassant, The Wandering Life (1890)

Excerpt translated by Amanda Crawley Jackson

Paris – la Petite Ceinture

The above short stop-motion film was produced in 2009 by French photographer Jipé Corre during the course of 2 weeks in May. Technically, the film consists of 2633 mostly black-and-white photographs shot at regular five meter (or 10 step) intervals from a similar, crouching position — all linked at the speed of 8 images per second to form a continuous whole suggestive of a full trajectory around the Ceinture in present-day Paris. The idea behind the film was a simple one: how to capture a linear and mostly unbroken space that was and continues to invite a multitude of uses and users.

(http://liminalities.net/8-4/ceinture.html)

Ulf Strohmayer, professor of Geography at NUI Galway, has written a fascinating essay on the petite ceinture and Corre’s video in Liminalities8, 4, 2012, pp. 1-16.